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Evelyn Glennie

Of course all my job is about listening... My aim really is to teach the world to listen

I think of myself as a sound creator...my world is about communicating through sound

Sound is vibration.

By the time I was twelve years old, I couldn’t hold conversations in the dark, and we would shine a torch on each person’s face as they spoke so I could lip-read.

The quotes above, spoken and written, come from Evelyn Glennie - a woman who understands music and sound through every aspect of her being. Witness a young Evelyn playing the Maple Leaf Rag – incredible energy, spot on timing, precision performance, joy in sound... Her work involves huge physical prowess – the movements of her hands/wrists/arms can be too fast or subtle for the eye to see. She will stand, kneel, do whatever it takes to experiment with sound and get the most from her instrument.

Glennie lost her hearing at the age of twelve, by which time she had the benefit of basic musical training, delivered by a Scottish school system that encouraged children to learn and appreciate music and express their individual talents. She had experimented with piano and clarinet, found sound interesting and whilst not at the time considering music as a career recognised it as a part of her life. She learned the basics of music whilst still able to hear, and this musical grounding gave her a platform for future development.

When I was twelve years old and I started learning timpani and percussion and my teacher said “well. how are we going to do this?”. It seems that from this age on Evelyn taught her teachers as much as they taught her. Her first percussion teacher had the courage to let her explore her own experience in relation to sound – rather than telling her how to drum he let her take a drum home for a week to explore the size, shape, patterns and vibration of the instrument in her own way. Her approach to sound and music has always been exploratory, and she found the strictures of traditional music teaching at odds with her view of making and performance as the heart of all sound and musical creation.

Glennie says that a careers adviser shaped her life by telling her not what she could do but not she could not do, ie musicianship. The adviser suggested she develop skills in accountancy rather than music, and in doing so helped her realise her true life path. She has always listened to her intuition, and she knew that exploration of sound was the way of her world. Having decided her path she applied to London’s Royal Academy of Music who could at first not accept the premise of a solo deaf musician. Glennie suffered a second audition before being let in to this establishment, and in doing so shifted the permaeters of acceptance in the UK’s top music institutions.

Evelyn Glennie has always worked with young people, recognising and nurturing potential. Given her unique path much of her music as a solo percussionist has been created for her in exploration of new ground in the art of sound.

Glennie is a Dame of the British Empire – one of the highest honours the Queen can give to any individual. She has changed perceptions of music, of sound, of genius. Who would have thought that a girl brought up on a Scottish farm, losing her hearing in the dark of Scottish winters, would end up performing on a worldwide stage...

For a glimpse of this remarkable woman in action, explaining her philosophy through words and music, watch Evelyn Glennie: How To Listen To Music With Your Whole Body on YouTube.

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Content copyright © 2013 by Asha Sahni. All rights reserved.
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